The nature of work is changing right before our eyes. The effects of accelerating technology advancements on the technician workforce are posing challenges and opportunities for community colleges whose mission includes preparing STEM technicians for the uncertain work of the future. Conversations between educators and employers are underway across the country to identify the cross-cutting knowledge and skills that will be required of STEM technicians and determine how best to equip them to remain competitive in the future workplace.
In a first-of-its-kind regional event, the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (NSF-ATE) program convened education and workforce development thought leaders to discuss critical issues surrounding preparing technicians for work of the future. Led by the Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD) and hosted by Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, the convening included participants from industry, workforce development agencies, community colleges with ATE grants, and universities from North and South Carolina.
Regional Convening in Winston-Salem
During the event’s opening session, Matthew Carter, Vice President of Engineering Operations at Cook Medical, whose Winston-Salem site develops and manufactures devices used in gastrointestinal endoscopy, offered local industry perspectives on cross-cutting skill areas that will impact future STEM technician training.
The following day, convening participants heard from three subject matter experts who set the stage for exploration of three future-critical skill areas: Data Knowledge and Analysis, Advanced Digital Literacy, and Business Knowledge and Processes.
Using a Knowledge and Skills Inventory created by the project team, facilitators next guided multi-sector small groups through activities examining 43 topics within the three broad content areas, with an eye toward determining those already being taught and those not yet a part of the instructional landscape.
Based on input during the activities, the project team learned that about half of the identified cross-cutting knowledge and skill areas are being taught within degree programs as part of course requirements within the region. The other half of the skills are either taught in less traditional ways (i.e. bootcamps), informal learning opportunities like seminars or guest speakers, or not at all. That said, data and digital skills are beginning to permeate STEM programs, regardless of discipline, as are human (employability) skills such as communication and ethics.